to release 4G
Fastest growing
operator in the middle east
Source: Mobily

Telecommunications company Mobily explain how deep consumer data led them to change their expat strategy from a voice-led offering to a data-led one.

Mobily launched in 2005 after winning Saudi Arabia’s second Global Systems for Mobile Communications Licence, disrupting the monopoly held by Saudi Telecom. 

Since then, they’ve become known as the fastest-growing operator in the Middle East and North Africa and the second largest in Saudi Arabia.

Mobily wanted to expand its position within the Saudi Arabian market by fostering more meaningful connections with the wide-reaching expat audience in the country, in the hope of realizing greater revenue opportunities.

Their media agency, Initiative MENA - operating under IPG Mediabrands - were tasked with deciphering the best strategy for achieving this.    

The challenge 

Identifying what Mobily’s expat audience want.

Despite Mobily’s efforts to create specific packages for expats, there was a feeling that uptake could be improved.

Expat workers make up a huge percentage of the population in the Middle East.

In Saudi Arabia they form 32% and in United Arab Emirates up to 85%. This presents a significant revenue opportunity based on the demographics alone.

This fact combined with the different socio-political factors influencing the way people were living on a national level and the expected influx of pioneering communication technology such as 5G, meant it was key to understand how expats were staying connected, and why.

“The 30 million inhabitants in the country were going through massive shifts in how they saw their own society, and their place in the world", says Mazher Abidi, Head of Strategy at Initiative MENA.

"Attitudes to life were changing and that’s a key area of transformation."

Coupling that with the influx of challenger brands competing for their share, there was clearly a need for Mobily to transform and provide targeted packages designed to meet the evolving needs of an evolving market.

The action

Validating a hunch using data.

The agency adopted a double-edged approach to their proposal.

Suspecting Mobily’s current audience perceptions didn’t paint the full picture, they aimed to both prove and disprove existing audience perceptions to ground their theories in fact.

“We wanted to give our recommendation on how Mobily should be targeting different nationalities with the best packages for them. But at the same time we wanted to base it on solid research and insight to validate our whole approach”, says Mazher.

To do so, Initiative used the GWI platform to prove and disprove some preconceptions, uncovering key insights into expat mobile usage in Saudi Arabia.

Theories they disproved:

  • The best way to attract expats is through international dialing offers.

  • Their top communication medium is international voice dialing.
  • Smartphone owners are high earners.

  • Most expats sit within the lowest income brackets.

Theories they proved:

  • All demographics (regardless of income) are smartphone owners.

  • Income levels of smartphone users are far more varied than anticipated.

  • Their top communication mediums are wifi, messaging and VoIP using VPNs.

  • Income levels of expat workers vary widely (even sitting within the top 25% of earners).

The result

A change in perceptions and approach.

“We identified who they are and how they live their lives - from their behaviors to their touchpoints”, says Mazher.

The data revealed smartphone users were active across a larger number of expat nationalities in Saudi Arabia, and across a much wider range of income groups than originally thought.

No matter the salary, they still all had access to smartphones and were using data and wifi services - both at home and in public.

And not only were they using these devices in-market, they were ensuring that their families back home had the same levels of connectivity to facilitate communication - again regardless of wealth.

This was essentially the way expats were keeping in touch with people back home.

It became clear that Mobily needed to change their expat strategy from a voice-led offering, to a data-led one.

In September 2018, the Initiative team presented their findings to Mobily’s management team with the recommendations uncovered by the insights.

They also presented the average income levels for different expats to help guide optimum pricing.

Initiative’s observations led to Mobily completely rethinking their targeting and messaging strategy.

It gave them far more insight into the audience, shattering the long-held myth that IDD dialing and traditional voice calls are the way forward for expats.

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